Most healthy individuals do not require doctor care to prevent, diagnose, or treat the flu. Flu vaccines are now readily available at local pharmacies and grocery stores at very affordable prices. Additionally, treatment for flu is often simple bed rest, fluids, and over-the-counter painkillers for symptoms.
However, for people in certain high-risk groups, such as children, those 65 and over, pregnant women, and those with already weakened immune systems, the flu can be serious and sometimes life-threatening. These individuals should contact their doctor at the first signs of infection.
Close monitoring of flu symptoms is essential for everyone, but especially for those in high-risk groups. If flu symptoms worsen, last more than two weeks or suddenly improve and then return with a worsened cough and fever, you should call your doctor immediately.
There are a number of doctors who can help with flu prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Their role in combating the flu and its related—and sometimes deadly—complications should not be minimized.
Primary Care Physician
Each fall, make an appointment with your primary healthcare provider or family doctor for yourself and your loved ones to obtain a flu shot, especially if you or anyone in your family falls into the high-risk category.
If you are a member of a group at high risk for secondary complications of the flu, you should contact your doctor as soon as you develop any flu-like symptoms.
You should also see a specialist if your symptoms seem particularly severe. Your family doctor will decide whether you need to be referred to a specialist.
A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in providing healthcare for children. If you have children, contact their pediatrician every fall to see if a flu vaccination is appropriate for them as well. Remember, children under 6 months of age should not receive a flu shot.
If your child develops the flu with severe symptoms, a pediatrician will be able to assess your child’s symptoms to determine the best course of treatment and whether or not he or she should be seen by a specialist.
Infectious Disease Specialist
These doctors have specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, including the influenza virus. If you or your child has an especially severe case of the flu, or if your primary doctor cannot determine the cause of flu-like symptoms, he or she may recommend that you see an infectious disease specialist.
Emergency Care Physicians
Certain symptoms in adults, children, or infants may indicate a medical emergency.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adult emergency symptoms include:
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- chest or abdomen pain or pressure
- dizziness that is sudden or severe
- mental confusion
- vomiting that is severe or constant
- symptoms that disappear and then reappear with a worsened cough and fever
Infant or child emergency symptoms include:
- problems breathing (including rapid breathing)
- blue tint to skin
- not drinking an adequate amount of fluids
- difficulty waking up, listlessness
- crying that gets worse when the child is picked up
- no tears when crying
- flu symptoms that disappear but then reappear with a fever and a worsened cough
- fever with a rash
- loss of appetite or an inability to eat
- decreased number of wet diapers
Pneumonia is a common complication of the flu, especially for certain high-risk groups, such as those over 65, young children, and those with already-weakened immune systems due to chronic illness or other factors. The Mayo Clinic advises visiting an emergency room immediately if you have symptoms of pneumonia, including:
- a severe cough with large amounts of phlegm
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- fever higher than 102°F that persists—especially if accompanied by chills or sweating
- acute chest pains
- severe chills or sweating
Untreated pneumonia, especially in older adults, smokers, and those with weakened immune systems (especially in those with heart or lung conditions) can lead to serious complications and even death.
- Am I (or is my child) in any of the high-risk groups for flu-related complications? These include those age five and under, those 65 and older, pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, those under 19 on aspirin therapy, and those who take steroid medications.
- Do I (or does my child) have any of the above emergency symptoms, including persistent fever over 102°; difficulty breathing; chest pains; bluish skin; severe dizziness; changes in crying, eating, or drinking patterns (in children); and/or changes in mental state?
- ·Have my (or my child’s) flu symptoms lasted longer than seven days, or have symptoms improved and then worsened? In particular, has there been improvement and then a resurgence of fever and a worsening cough?
Answering yes to any of these questions is good cause to call your doctor as soon as possible. Early treatment of flu-related complications is key to preventing serious illness.